By Laurel Park Press Staff – Following a multi-million dollar reconstruction of the main track that led to a Preakness Meet at historic Pimlico Race Course extended into late August, live racing is set to make its long-awaited and highly anticipated return to Laurel Park.
Laurel Park will play host to a 59-day, calendar-year ending fall meet that begins Thursday and runs through Dec. 31, featuring 33 stakes worth $3.525 million in purses led by the $200,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) and 36th edition of the Jim McKay Maryland Million.
Racing will be conducted Thursday through Sunday in September, October and November and Friday through Sunday in December. There will be no racing Friday, Dec. 24 or Saturday, Dec. 25.
Post time will be 12:40 p.m. through Sunday, Oct. 24 and move to 12:25 p.m. beginning Friday, Oct. 28 through the remainder of the meet with exceptions of 11:30 a.m. on Maryland Million Day, Oct. 23, and 11:25 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25.
Laurel Park hosted its last live program April 11, in part due to an equine herpesvirus (EHV-1) outbreak that delayed the start of its spring meet and later a complete rebuilding of the dirt surface that necessitated the move to Pimlico through Aug. 22. Horses returned to Laurel Aug. 8 and began timed workouts Aug. 10.
Thursday’s opening day program of nine races features four over Laurel Park’s world-class turf course that drew a total of 52 entries. The card includes one-mile allowances for 3-year-olds and up on the turf in Race 7 and the dirt in Race 8, as well as maiden special weight sprints for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs on the main track in Race 6 and 5 ½ furlongs on the grass in Race 9.
Nine races are on tap again Friday, including a trio of maiden special weights for 2-year-olds – Races 4 and 7 sprinting six furlongs on the main track and Race 5, a 5 ½-furlong turf dash, with trainer Brittany Russell represented in all three. In Race 4, she’ll send out Karl Glassman and Cathi Glassman’s first-time starter Von Hoff, a son of Hard Spun that fetched $335,000 as a 2-year-old in training at Ocala in June.
In Race 5, Respect the Valleys’ Heavenly Trip will try blinkers and grass for the first time after finishing second in each of his first three starts, two at Pimlico and most recently in an off-the-turf sprint Aug. 17 at Colonial Downs. Russell will unveil Robert LaPenta’s The Clam King, a gelded son of Dialed In, in Race 7. Russell’s husband, jockey Sheldon Russell, is named to ride all three horses.
Thursday and Friday turf races will be conducted over the All Along and Dahlia layouts. Laurel Park’s expansive 142-foot wide grass course and portable rail allows for six different settings, each named for some of racing’s biggest stars – All Along (rail setting), Bowl Game (17 feet), Kelso (35 feet), Dahlia (52 feet), Exceller (70 feet) and Fort Marcy (87 feet).
Claudio Gonzalez, Maryland’s leading overall trainer by wins each of the past four years, will be chasing his 18th career title having captured both full Maryland Jockey Club meets this year – Laurel winter and Pimlico’s four-month Preakness stand. He has one horse entered over the first two days, Joseph Besecker’s 2-year-old Slaats, second in the Aug. 29 Timonium Juvenile, in Friday’s Race 4.
Teenage jockey sensation Charlie Marquez is named in seven races Thursday and five races Friday. The 18-year-old Columbia, Md. native, Maryland’s leading apprentice of 2020, earned his first career riding title at Pimlico over J.D. Acosta, 49-40.
Fall stakes action begins Saturday, Sept. 18 led by the 30th running of the De Francis, a prestigious six-furlong sprint with a distinguished roster of winners including Hall of Famer Housebuster and fellow sprint champions Cherokee Run, Smoke Glacken, Thor’s Echo and Benny the Bull.
Also on the De Francis Day program are the $100,000 Weather Vane for fillies and mares 3 and up sprinting six furlongs, $100,000 Polynesian for 3-year-olds and up and $100,000 Twixt for fillies and mares 3 and older, both going one mile.
Saturday, Oct. 2 is the Fall Festival of Racing featuring five grass stakes worth $600,000 in purses led by the $150,000 Laurel Futurity for 2-year-olds and $150,000 Selima for 2-year-old fillies, each at 1 1/16 miles, and the listed $100,000 Japan Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and up going 1 ½ miles and $100,000 All Along for females 3 and older at 1 1/8 miles. Rounding out the action is the $100,000 Laurel Dash sprinting six furlongs.
The ground-breaking Maryland Million, which debuted in 1986 and inspired copycat programs throughout the U.S. and Canada, returns Saturday, Oct. 23 with eight stakes anchored by the $150,000 Classic for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles. Juveniles are in the spotlight in the $100,000 Nursery and $100,000 Lassie for females, both at six furlongs.
Maryland Million will also offer the $100,000 Sprint (3-year-olds and up, six furlongs), $100,000 Distaff (fillies and mares 3 and up, seven furlongs), $100,000 Turf (3-year-olds and up, 1 1/8 miles), $100,000 Ladies (fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 1/8 miles), and $75,000 Turf Sprint (3-year-olds and up, 5 ½ furlongs).
Pre-entry deadline for the Maryland Million is Wednesday, Oct. 13.
Juveniles return to center stage Saturday, Nov. 13 in the $100,000 James F. Lewis III and $100,000 Smart Halo, the latter for fillies, both at six furlongs. The card will also include the $100,000 Thirty Eight Go Go at 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares 3 and up.
Following its special annual Thanksgiving Day program, Laurel Park will serve up a total of five stakes worth $450,000 in purses spread over back-to-back days. Maryland-bred/sired horses are featured Friday, Nov. 26 with the seven-furlong, $75,000 Howard and Sondra Bender Memorial for 3-year-olds and up and six-furlong, $75,000 Politely for fillies and mares 3 and older.
Saturday, Nov. 27 offers the last stakes races in Maryland for straight 3-year-olds, the $100,000 Safely Kept for fillies and $100,000 City of Laurel, both sprinting seven furlongs. In addition, horses aged 3 and up will travel 1 1/8 miles in the $100,000 Richard W. Small.
The final month of the calendar year will feature eight stakes worth $850,000 in purses, launched by the $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Futurity for 2-year-olds and $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship, each at seven furlongs, Saturday, Dec. 4.
Christmastide Day Stakes return Saturday, Dec. 26 with six stakes worth $650,000 in purses including the $100,000 Heft for 2-year-olds and $100,000 Gin Talking for 2-year-old fillies sprinting seven furlongs, $100,000 Dave’s Friend for 3-year-olds and up and $100,000 Willa On the Move for females 3 and older, each at 6 ½ furlongs.
New to the stakes calendar are the $150,000 Robert T. Manfuso for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/16 miles and $100,000 Carousel at 1 1/8 miles for fillies and mares 3 and older. The Carousel, which carried Grade 3 status from 1988 through 1997, was last run in 2002 at Laurel.
Manfuso passed away March 19, 2020 at the age of 82. A former owner of both Laurel Park and Pimlico and longtime life partner of trainer Katy Voss, Manfuso was instrumental in revitalizing Thoroughbred racing in Maryland. An owner and breeder who established Chanceland Farm with Voss in 1987, Manfuso bred 2016 Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Cathryn Sophia and was named Maryland’s Breeder of the Year with his filly earning Maryland-bred Horse of the Year honors.